We crossed the border last night, heading south to attend the JBS Southern Producer Forum held today in Melbourne.
After being caught up in meetings and missing the morning program, it was time to wander down Southbank Promenade to Crown to attend the afternoon sessions. Attendees broke up into beef and lamb streams, with my Dad and I separating into the two. As sheep is front and centre for me at the moment, I knew which way I was headed.
First to the podium was Richard Apps, Adoption Manager for Sheep at MLA, to speak about what is coming down the pipeline in the industry from an R&D perspective.
So, what is the Sheep CRC up to? Apps informed that with their 5-year funding extension (4 of which are left), are focused on three core programs: 1) remote systems around animal wellbeing and productivity 2) improving yield, eating quality and working across the supply chain, and (3) advanced genetic improvement technologies (testing of animals at a DNA level to estimate their genetic potential).
Apps stated that from an MLA perspective, there will be continued effort around reproduction, concentration on condition score (focused on more effective management in crossbred, maternal and composite ewes), ewe lamb mating (and getting them back in lamb next year), targeted nutrition at joining, embryo morality and anti-leptin vaccination investigation.
In addition, there is ongoing effort on driving labour efficiencies. Apps reminded us that $0.22 in the dollar spent on farm is on labour — and can run up to $0.50 when oncosts are included. MLA is working on developing a program so we can assess our individual business and how efficient they are, as well as where we can improve and which investments can drive efficiencies in labour.
There is work in the area of innovative technology and data capture by MLA, however “it is a little way off”, Apps mentioned. Remote monitoring of phenotypes to predict condition or wrinkle scores, objective data measurement about the relative value of different pastures, as well as using technology to quickly measure weights of ewes between paddocks were used as key examples. Apps showed the audience a video of the latter technology from the NZ, which showed a weighing system that could run 477 ewes in just 4 minutes!
Apps’ closing message to the audience was focused on innovation and financial awareness. He pushed home that there is opportunity out there being captured by producers who are “joining the dots” together. Apps asked how many in the room know their cost of production per lamb? Maybe we are just a shy lot, but there was only one person in the room that put their hand up. Understanding the financial drivers in your business is key, Apps reminded.
He left us with a challenge — keep current with research, identify what is applicable to your business, adopt early and implement the change well. And, as always, “don’t fall into the trap of doing what you’ve always done”.
Graham Treffone, Innovation Manager at JBS Australia, and Dr. Graham Gardner, from Murdoch University were up next to speak about innovative technology in lamb processing. Treffone introduced us to the technology at the Bordertown plant in SA, where they use single image x-ray to determine the skeletal characteristics of individual lamb carcasses. Video clips showed how the software directs the cutting robot towers to the dissection points on the carcass. He noted that they are currently running 10 lambs per minute at constant speed and the new system is safer, has less risk and has greater precision.
Dr. Gardner spoke of the need to move to an individual carcass system and the need to further develop MSA for lamb. Working through the antagonism between lean meat yield and eating quality was one of the most important next steps. He noted we have a reasonably precise measurement of lean meat yield, but eating quality is still being worked at. Getting this second measurement is so pivotal and there will be continued focus on getting this right, Gardner stated.
The session ended with a vision — and perhaps a promise to producers — that we are entering a new paradigm of value-based trading in the lamb industry.
Off to afternoon tea and will be back for the afternoon sessions soon!